The Changing Scene

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There’s a narrow winding road climbing a hillside thick with redwoods and oaks a half-mile off the Pacific. Laree and I live two-and-a-half miles up that old country road. When I first moved to the area some 25 years ago, a local and his dog could amble down the wooded way for 20 minutes before sharing it with a passing car. "Howdy, neighbor." Today, you’d last 60 seconds before being flattened by a raging hit-and-run on his way to the interstate.

Last night an outraged neighborhood held its first road-safety meeting to discuss the problems of speeding, tailgating and passing on tight turns. "We’ll put an end to this roadside irresponsibility and terrorism," we agreed before the authority of a sympathetic sheriff and obliging CHP officer in attendance. The spare beginnings of a neighborhood watch were set in place.

Growing has its aches and pains. Fifteen years ago, when Laree and I opened our first gym in Santa Cruz, there were a total of four in the spread-out area. Five years later there were ten gyms; ten years later there were 15, including five Curves, two stately college gyms and various large personal training facilities. Today, every fire, police and sheriff department has its own significant exercise area and there are smaller personal training studios on every street corner. Gyms: They’re like ants on a cube of sugar.

It seems where 100 people or more reside, a gym will appear. And where one or two neighborhood gyms thrive, a chain will move in and take over. And where a chain takes over, a corporation, like a boa constrictor, will swallow the enlarging chain, curl up and pulsate. Bulging gyms offering every trendy, dazzling, techy and cutesy gimmick are popping up like corks across the choppy seas of mankind. Jump in, splash around and sink, the water’s fine.

Notice the cynicism surfacing with the corks. I’ve dumped this load on you before and commented without mercy about the lukewarm behavior of gym members within gym walls. The atmosphere is not conducive to hard work; it’s social, comfy, swell, nifty-keen and everything else a gym atmosphere should not be.

Atmosphere -- the attitude of one’s surroundings -- directly affects the person and is directly affected by the person.

Think about this: A playful gym is playful. Smiles all around, a little conversation, a ride on the stationary bike, some TV, reading and music, a pump the size of and as concealed as a needle in a hay stack, and a burn as hot and deep as yesterday’s pizza. Nice place. Cute girls. Progress is slow. Are we there yet?

Playful doesn’t work.

Clean is good, but a severe gym floor devoid of feeling, space, balance or creativity can be depressing. A gym works best for the trainee when it’s efficiently laid out and ruggedly constructed; when it exudes power and performance; when it demands respect and stimulates responsibility.

Tough and serious are vital: training is heightened, enthusiasm boils, inspiration unfolds, hard work is generated and growth is certain. Hardcore, on the other hand, is not necessary and is often arrogant and rude -- destructive. A gym must be, above all, honest. Not dollars and sense, but heart and soul. A gym that isn’t real is not a gym at all, but an imitation. Fake is hard to take, Jake. Gimme a break!

More: Too many people sucking up the atmosphere is stifling. You can’t use the equipment you want, when and how you want. You can’t focus, hear yourself breathe, gain rhythm, practice precise form, settle down and enjoy the good fight. Excuse me; that’s my bar and my bench and my towel and my water bottle. This is frustrating, enraging and time consuming, and is no way constructive in building muscle and might. In fact, I think it makes you fat, ugly and nervous.

Much more: Good neighborhood gyms are hard to find and will never be obsolete, but they need and deserve honest neighborhood support. We all moan about corporations sucking up the little guy, but few of us put our money where our mouth is. Put your money on gold nugget: the striving, honest workout joint. The big, preposterous gyms owned and operated by sharks are overbuilt, losing their appeal and might just become outmoded.

Beyond more: People who know and understand the iron; people who care about muscle and might are scratching their heads more and more frequently. Something’s missing, something’s wrong. Time is rare; convenience is worshipped, streets are crowded and dangerous, and anyplace beyond the front yard is far, far away. Membership fees are high, the music’s obnoxious, the jerks are numerous, gas prices are rising, weather’s unpredictable, personal wear, tear and risk is increasing, the kids are at the park and the dog is cute.

What’s the answer? Hint: TV infomercials have a few ideas. It’s your own personal home gym.

Not a home gym that is designed to evolve into a handy clothes hangar or potted plant holder. Not a home gym that wobbles when you walk by it in the morning on the way to the bathroom. Not a home gym that’s cheap and silly and folds up and fits in a dark, forgotten place. Not a home gym so insignificant and economical that you really don’t feel guilty when you grow to despise it by mid-summer and drag it to the flea market. Not a home gym so stupid that you dislocate a valuable bodypart every time you crawl onto the dern thing. No, not one of those. The classifieds, junkyards and garbage dumps are full of those.

The time is coming -- the time is here -- when a real home gym is required to fill the aching needs of those who love to train, want to and must. There are an increasing number of serious athletes, lifters, bodybuilders and physical fitness enthusiast who have identified the deterioration of the commercial gym scene, who want to avoid the mess and are ready to take action. And a Barbie or action hero gym will not do.

No answer required; this is just a stimulus. Who among you are ready for training at home? How do you know you’re ready? Relating to the encumbrances of the gym on the mall is not enough, but it’s a start. You must be sure of your readiness. Space, money and train-alone ability top the list of requirements.

Of course, numerous bombers have their own private runways and love it, or have flown solo in the past and know the conditions. They can tell you of its benefits and rewards, and they can tell you it’s not for everyone, as well.

Some considerations:

~ Can you and will you train at home alone? This concept might sound frightening to some and desirably daring to others. In time anyone can come to appreciate training privacy, learn to enjoy it and eventually love it. It’s not perfect, but the resourceful and dedicated make it work like a well-oiled machine. Another thing, training alone -- and independent -- will make a tenderfoot resourceful and dedicated. Growing is good.

~ How about space? If you have options, choose a separate or private area where distractions are not a problem. Too tight, exposed or temporary will not work well. Home training that does not work well is not long-lasting. Why bother? Stop before you start. "Just right" can be found in a small space if equipment choices and layout are intelligent and efficient. 12' x 12' can do the job; it helps to have height and plenty of air. Add a little or a lot of creativity, cleanliness, order, personality and some favorite sounds to your iron and steel, and the hard work will follow respectfully.

~ How’s your piggy bank? You get what you pay for. Be wise in your choice of rack, benches, barbells and dumbbells. They’ll be used regularly and passionately if they’re terrific, and still last forever. Get the best, don’t cheat yourself. This is a lifetime investment, you know, to be passed on from generation to generation. You don’t want to give your kids a pile of rusty, twisted metal. Don’t be cheap.

~ Okay! Okay! Okay! You’ve been collecting stuff over the years and you’re prudent. I understand; I use paper towels, wash them out and use them again and again till they’re shredded and tortured. Check out the local classified ads and see what’s out there. Well-meaning folks get an urge, misinterpret it as inspiration and buy a load of exercise gear, only to look at it the next day and wonder what the heck they were thinking. Offer them a song and remove their once prized musclebuilding items from the tool shed, under the porch, beneath the tarpaulin or wherever they hid the mess. Rust has an attitude of its own, and some of the most active home gyms are neither sparkling nor tidy. Cheap is inexpensive. Wallowing works.

~ As you know, working out is most productive and fulfilling when you are focused and uninterrupted. Can you train at home without family responsibilities interfering with your bombing and blasting? Settle this matter before you start clearing the garage and hanging posters of Reeves, Coleman and Betty Boop.

The dandy upside is the weights are at your fingertips, come rain or shine, snow or Christmas holidays, during heavy traffic hours and when one more person in your face is far too much to bear. It’s wise to train at your scheduled time to establish a working mind-set, but when life throws you a curve, how sweet it is you can cheerfully make a timely workout accommodation. The conveniences, benefits and advantages of weights-at-hand are plentiful. Up at 6:00 AM and in the gym by 6:01... a little groggy. Home late; that’s great, train at eight.

~ Imagine -- visualize -- yourself in your private workout space. You’re sitting on your bench, leaning on your knees and contemplating your first movement. Is it bright or dim in your world of iron; is it quiet, silent or do familiar house sounds penetrate your mind; is it comfortably contained or confining? Are you alone and content, or are you lonely and dissatisfied? Does excitement stir in the novel atmosphere, or is it dullness you feel in your bones? Do you look around in awe and feel the metal lift you upward, or do your shoulders hang low as you succumb to the metal-heaviness about you? Are you inspired; are you ready; is there hope; can you adapt?

~ Now recall: you’re in the gym you know well. There are sights and sounds of people and mirrors and machines and fluorescents and music and conversations. Sitting on the bench causes you concern -- have I been here too long and is my next vitally important piece of equipment available? The crowd’s building. Oh! The loudmouth has just arrived. Swell. I’ll pretend I don’t... hmmm... there’s that lovely creature standing by the staircase. Is she looking my way? What time is it? How much time do I have? Concentrate... let’s go for the pump. What’s that you asked? I have two more sets.

~ Remember: Anything worthwhile takes time, practice, adjustment and adaptation. Once an appropriate space is prepared and the essential gear is installed, you must eagerly and confidently establish a strong training atmosphere. Training at home is not to be regarded as sufficient, unless playful entertainment and a tidy pump are your goals. Training at home can be fierce and determined and explosive, exceeding the levels you’ve achieved at the classy high-powered gym on Main Street. It depends upon the mind you bring into your space. Attitude shapes the space.

It helps to have an awesome and inspiring display of rugged, functional and efficient training equipment.

To bench or not to bench -- at home or in the Downtown Iron Emporium, that is the question.

Got an answer? Only you know, my good friend, whose head is full of metal, muscle and might.

I’m hopping in the old bi-plane (AKA, the old pickup truck) and heading for the World Gym in Santa Cruz, one of the few remaining real gyms on the planet Earth. It’s just right! Care to join me? It’s leg day. Meet me at the first squat rack beyond Hangar A-1. Bring your own wraps and belt, towel and water bottle.

God’s strength... DD

Here's Hugo on home gym training, and here's his home gym dumbbell workout routine.

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